The UK’s first commercial lab to trial driverless cars that use 5G and satellite technology has launched in Oxfordshire.
The Darwin SatCom Lab is based at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus and will invite businesses to test driverless cars at the site.
Led by O2 with backing from the Government and funding from the UK Space Agency, the lab will also look into ways of using 5G technology and satellites to keep vehicles connected.
5G is seen as a key technology in the development of autonomous vehicles by reducing the time it takes for information to be sent and received – crucial for driverless cars as they scan the environment around them, process that data and control the vehicle accordingly.
The use of satellites within such systems is being tested as a way to allow vehicles to operate safely in areas where mobile phone signal is poor.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said she was “incredibly excited” by the launch of the new lab.
“The UK’s space sector is applying pioneering technologies such as satellite and 5G to essential products and services that will help to transform our everyday lives,” she said.
“I am incredibly excited that O2’s first of its kind driverless car lab will enable our most innovative businesses to test these technologies and bring us another step closer to putting self-driving vehicles safely on our roads.”
At the site, two Renault Twizy electric cars have already been converted into driverless vehicles by O2, which have been fitted with sensors and can be controlled from the lab and driven around the campus using 5G and satellite connectivity.
O2 chief operating officer Derek McManus said: “We’re delighted to announce that the Darwin SatCom Lab is now open for business at Harwell Campus, allowing companies to put theory into practice and test innovative ideas using our connected and autonomous vehicles.
“The Lab is further proof that O2 is at the forefront of connectivity and accelerating Britain’s recovery by helping British businesses to harness the power of 5G and satellite communications in order to benefit their customers.
“It’s the next step in getting autonomous vehicles on the road and making the UK’s transport network greener.”
The lab also forms a part of Project Darwin, a four-year programme back by both the UK Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA) to trial new connectivity technology for driverless cars.
The ESA’s 5G strategic programme manager, Antonio Franchi, said: “We are excited to continue working on 5G projects with our partners, especially the Darwin SatCom Lab located on the Harwell Campus, which is also home to the ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications.
“The Lab, showcasing the integration of 5G and satellite communications for CAVs, is a great example of how next-gen 5G networks will enable new applications and services thanks to their ubiquity, security and resilience.”